A former Red Sox star had a hot take that will anger Yankees fans
Manny Ramirez is no stranger to controversy. The Boston Red Sox learned that from enduring nearly eight years of Manny being Manny. He’s never been shy about speaking his mind and recent comments from Ramirez are certain to ruffle some feathers from a certain fan base in the Bronx.
Ramirez made a surprise appearance at Fenway Park on Monday to honor his induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. He received his plaque from David Ortiz, then threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his former teammate.
During the broadcast of the game against the Detroit Tigers, Ramirez stopped by the NESN booth to chat with another former teammate, Kevin Millar, who joined Dave O’Brien and Dennis Eckersley for the game.
One of their conversations revolved around the pressures of playing in a city like Boston or New York. There’s nothing like the atmosphere of these two intense markets or the epic rivalry between the two AL East opponents. If you’ve never played for either of these teams, you can’t fully grasp the pressure they face.
This is what led to Ramirez making a comment that could cause riots in the streets of New York. According to Manny, Derek Jeter would have been “just a regular player” if he spent his entire career with the Kansas City Royals instead of the Yankees.
That’s a bold statement to make about a Hall of Fame shortstop who made 14 All-Star appearances, collected a handful of Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and earned five World Series rings.
Before Yankees fans go running to grab their pitchforks, we need to note the context of the conversation. Manny is in no way suggesting that Jeter wasn’t a great player. Sure, he benefitted by playing for great teams. Jeter probably saw plenty of good pitches to hit while batting near the top of a loaded lineup. He was able to pile up more plate appearances than he would have in a weaker lineup.
Those are factors that contributed to Jeter’s prolific resume, factors that Manny benefitted from himself with the Red Sox. Jeter collected over 3,400 hits in his career. Take away a few hundred to account for those variables of being part of a powerhouse lineup and he’s still one of the all-time great hitters.
Ramirez wasn’t saying that Jeter wasn’t a great hitter. However, a three-hit game against a non-contender outside of your division in May isn’t what made him Derek Jeter. The former Yankees shortstop shined brightest on the postseason stage. Jeter had 200 hits and a .308 average in 158 postseason games. His clutch performances in the playoffs are what his legacy is built on.
Not to pick on the Royals, but Manny used them as an example for a reason. Jeter’s Yankees made it to the playoffs 16 times between 1996-2012. The Royals failed to make the playoffs in every season during that span, almost always finishing with a losing record and often at the bottom of their division. While Jeter would have undoubtedly made the Royals better, his presence alone wouldn’t have vaulted them into contention.
Jeter’s greatness was enhanced by playing in the biggest market on the game’s biggest stage. He wouldn’t have the same recognition if he played for a small market team that never made the playoffs.
Ramirez explained how the passionate Red Sox fan base pushed him to be a better player. If you weren’t performing to expectations, the fans would let you know. If he didn’t hustle on a ground ball out, the boo birds would flock to Fenway. Every slump would be picked apart on talk radio. People on the street would criticize any perceived lack of effort. You can’t check out if you play for the Red Sox. You have to stay focused on winning. That makes markets like Boston a tough place to play but it can also drive the great players to reach their peak.
Maybe Jeter doesn’t have the same drive to succeed if he’s toiling away on a losing team. Ramirez certainly can’t speak for Jeter, but based on his own experience, it’s a reasonable prediction.
We’ll never know what his numbers would have looked like if he spent his entire career with a losing team but it’s fair to say Jeter still would have been more than “just a regular player.” It’s also fair to surmise that he wouldn’t have been the face of the league and one of the most popular athletes of his generation if he weren’t the starting shortstop for the Yankees.
Manny’s comments might have been a bit exaggerated but he does have a point. Jeter was battle tested in a challenging environment and he achieved an incredible level of success. He wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to shine and may have been overlooked by the casual fans if he had traded in his pinstripes to play for a franchise that wasn’t getting nationwide attention.